Lightning storms mass over California, Oregon as wildfires blaze

FILE PHOTO: Firefighter fight fire near torching trees as wildfire burns near Yosemite National Park in this US Forest Service photo released on social media from California, U.S., August 6, 2018. Courtesy USFS/Yosemite National Park/Handout via REUTERS

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Storm clouds gathered over southern Oregon and northern California early on Wednesday, threatening to spark more wildfires with lightning strikes as emergency crews battled several deadly blazes, forecasters said.

The clouds carried little rain and offered little chance of a break from the bone-dry conditions plaguing the region, the National Weather Service said.

“Initial attack resources could be overwhelmed,” it added in a red flag announcement.

Elsewhere, crews made slow but steady progress against wildfires including one, called the Mendocino Complex, which has become largest in California’s history and killed one firefighter from Utah on Monday.

Emergency crews had managed to set up containment lines around almost two thirds the fire which has raged through the southern end of the Mendocino National Forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

That fire has scorched 355,000 acres (144,000 hectares) and destroyed 265 structures, it added.

To the northeast, firefighters have been able to carve containment lines around 65 percent of the Carr Fire, which has killed three firefighters, four civilians and a utility worker and burned more than 1,500 structures. The Carr Fire has blackened 211,000 acres, Cal Fire said.

The heart of Yosemite National Park in California was reopened to the public on Tuesday after it was shut down for nearly three weeks due to the Ferguson Fire, which has caused two deaths. But smoke lingered in the air and a key route to the park’s best-known landmarks remained closed.

The 100,000-acre fire, which is about 150 miles (240 km) east of San Francisco, was 86 percent contained after igniting a month ago, authorities said.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Heavy rain floods critical care unit at Indian hospital

FILE PHOTO: A woman carries drinking water after collecting it from a hand pump at a flood affected area in Hojai district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika/File Photo

BHUBANESWAR/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Heavy rains flooded a hospital critical care unit in eastern India, an official said on Monday, as annual monsoon rains destroyed homes in several parts of the country and forced others to flee to higher ground.

Television showed doctors wading through knee-deep water tending to patients lying on raised beds at the government Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH) in Patna, the capital of Bihar state.

FILE PHOTO: A woman sits inside her flooded house after heavy rains in Ahmedabad, India, June 24, 2018. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File photo

FILE PHOTO: A woman sits inside her flooded house after heavy rains in Ahmedabad, India, June 24, 2018. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File photo

Some patients had been moved out as staff pumped out water that had seeped into medical equipment.

More than 1,500 people have died so far this year across the country due to storms, floods and landslides. Most government action in India tends to focus on relief, with weak early warning systems and too little focus on prevention.

More rain is forecast for Bihar and neighboring Uttar Pradesh where 80 people have died over the last four days, either drowning or being hit by collapsing walls.

Rivers running through Uttar Pradesh were in spate. “The next one week is critical. If the water level rises consistently…definitely we will have a flood scenario,” said state relief commissioner Sanjay Kumar.

More than 10,000 people who lived near the banks of the Yamuna river in and around Delhi have been shifted to tents on higher ground as the water level crossed the danger mark, district magistrate K. Mahesh said.

(Reporting by Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar and Neha Dasgupta in New Delhi; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Heavy rains in eastern U.S. pose flood risks US-USA-WEATHER

Rain forecast for 7-24-18 by the National Weather Service

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – Heavy rains pummeled parts of the U.S. Southwest and mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, swelling floods that have forced evacuations, disrupted air travel and cut power.

Downpours were expected to continue for several more days from southern New York to northern South Carolina, with similar patterns seen further west in southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico, the National Weather Service said.

About 23,000 homes and businesses were without power in a string of states from Pennsylvania to North Carolina early on Tuesday, Poweroutages.us reported.

Around Baltimore, officials had reported flooding after one inch (2.5 cm) of rain, the NWS said. Flood watches were in effect in other parts of Maryland, as well as parts of West Virginia, with minor flooding expected in North Carolina.

Airports in New York, Philadelphia and Washington experienced delays of up to three hours due to thunderstorms on Tuesday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In northern Virginia, close to the nation’s capital, the NWS had briefly issued a tornado warning Tuesday.

Flood waters rushed through the streets in Santa Fe, New Mexico late on Monday, destroying homes and businesses and trapping motorists in vehicles as more than 3 inches (8 cm) of rain fell, the Albuquerque Journal newspaper reported.

Santa Fe opened an evacuation shelter had opened for displaced residents, Mayor Alan Webber said on Twitter late Monday, adding, “In the morning we’ll launch an all-hands effort to clear roads, repair damage, and clean up from floods.”

More storms were expected in New Mexico on Tuesday, and the NWS warned flash flooding remained a concern, particularly in areas that had recently been ravaged by wildfires.

Rescue crews used small boats to save people trapped in flooded vehicles across Pennsylvania, local media reported.

Hersheypark, the chocolate-themed Pennsylvania amusement park, was scheduled to reopen on Tuesday, a day after closing due to three days of heavy rains and flooding.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Additional reporting by Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

Thirteen dead as Missouri storm sinks ‘duck boat’

Rescue personnel work after an amphibious "duck boat" capsized and sank, at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Stone County, Missouri, U.S. July 19, 2018 in this still image obtained from a video on social media. SOUTHERN STONE COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT/Facebook/via REUTERS

By Brendan O’Brien and Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – At least 13 people including children drowned after a tourist “duck boat” sank during a storm on a lake in Missouri, and authorities were set to resume a search on Friday for other missing victims, Missouri Governor Michael Parson said.

The sinking of vehicle, inspired by the amphibious landing craft used during D-Day in World War Two, marked one of the deadliest incidents at a U.S. tourist destination in recent history. Divers were still searching Table Rock Lake, a large reservoir outside the town of Branson, for missing passengers.

Rescue personnel are seen after an amphibious "duck boat" capsized and sank, at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Stone County, Missouri, U.S. July 19, 2018 in this still image obtained from a video on social media. SOUTHERN STONE COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT/Facebook/via REUTERS

Rescue personnel are seen after an amphibious “duck boat” capsized and sank, at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Stone County, Missouri, U.S. July 19, 2018 in this still image obtained from a video on social media. SOUTHERN STONE COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT/Facebook/via REUTERS

Video of the incident showed the hull of the vessel submerging into choppy waters.

“Just a terrible, horrific tragic accident has occurred,” Parson told CNN on Friday, noting that 13 people had been confirmed dead. “The rescue’s still ongoing.”

Seven victims, including two who were critically injured, were being treated at the Cox Medical Center in Branson, the hospital said on Twitter.

Emergency crews responded to the incident shortly after 7 p.m. (0000 GMT) on Thursday after thunderstorms rolled through the area, the fire district said on Twitter.

“There was some heavy wind. It was having problems through the wind,” Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told reporters at a news conference late on Thursday. “They were coming back toward land. There was actually two ducks. The first one made it out. The second one didn’t.”

Rader told reporters at that time, when the confirmed death toll was 11 people, that five individuals remained missing. His office on Friday referred questions about the incident including the number of people unaccounted for to Ripley Entertainment Inc, which owns the duck tour business. A Ripley representative could not be reached for immediate comment on Friday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Linderberg told the Springfield News-Leader newspaper that winds reaching 63 miles (101 km) per hour were recorded at the Branson airport near the time of the incident.

“We had a line of very strong thunderstorms that caused 74 mph winds here in Springfield,” he told the newspaper, noting that winds were likely stronger on the lake.

Video footage shot by a witness on shore showed strong waves tossing two duck boats side to side. The video clip was posted online by KY3.

Life jackets were on board the boat, Rader said.

The National Transportation Safety Board was sending investigators to the scene on Friday, the agency said on Twitter.

“Our number one priority is the families and our employees that were affected by this tragic accident,” Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, said on Thursday.

She could not confirm how many crew members were aboard the boat.

Duck vehicles, used on sightseeing tours around the world, have been involved in a number of fatal accidents on land and in the water in the past two decades.

The company that builds ducks, Ride the Ducks International LLC, agreed in 2016 to pay a $1 million fine after one of the vehicles, which operate on land as well as water, collided with a bus in Seattle, killing five international students.

The company admitted to failing to comply with U.S. vehicle manufacturing rules.

Two tourists died in Philadelphia in 2010 when the duck boat they were riding in was struck by a tugboat in the Delaware River.

Branson, in southwestern Missouri, is a family-friendly tourist destination whose attractions include “Dolly Parton’s Stampede,” a horse show and a Titanic museum with a model of the sunken vessel’s front half.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Gina Cherelus in New York, Writing by Scott Malone; Editing Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

Newborn killed, dozens hurt by North Dakota tornado

Damage from F2 tornado in Watford City, North Dakota, when tornado caused widespread destruction

(Reuters) – A tornado killed a seven-day-old baby and injured more than two dozen people when it ripped through a trailer park in North Dakota and forecasters warned that parts of the Midwestern United States could face more twisters on Wednesday.

The tornado, with wind speeds around 127 miles per hour (204 kph), hit a trailer home park on Tuesday in the southwest part of Watford City, North Dakota, about 180 miles (290 km) northwest of Bismarck, destroying many mobile homes, the National Weather Service said.

A male baby was severely injured when the storm hit his family’s home and later died in hospital, the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement late on Tuesday. The office did not identify the baby.

NWS weather forecaster Marc Chenard warned that tornadoes could hit portions of central and northern Minnesota and portions of western Wisconsin on Wednesday.

“There’s a threat of a few tornadoes and potential of large hail and a threat of flash flooding for the same areas mainly from this evening into early Thursday,” Chenard said.

About 28 trailer park residents were also injured when the storm hit Watford City. They were taken to McKenzie County Hospital, with at least three being transported by aircraft and six listed in critical condition, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

A representative from the McKenzie County Sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Severe wind threats will shift south by Thursday and threats of storms will then impact portions of southern Minnesota, northern Iowa and central Wisconsin. Chenard said that the storm has moved out of the North Dakota area.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum visited Watford City on Tuesday to survey areas hit by the tornado. He met with local officials and people who were displaced by the storm and were staying in local shelters, the governor’s office said in a statement.

The NWS rated the North Dakota tornado an EF-2, the second-strongest on the five-step Enhanced Fujita scale.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Frances Kerry)

Heavy rains due to drench Texas Gulf Coast, Midwest

6-20-18 National Weather Service precipitation map

(Reuters) – Heavy downpours were expected to drench the Gulf Coast of Texas and the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday and could cause flooding especially along already swollen rivers and in low-lying areas, forecasters warned.

Up to 5 inches (13 cm) of rain was forecast for parts of the Texas coast along the Gulf of Mexico and in the Middle Mississippi Valley states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas throughout the day and into Thursday, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“Be prepared for water over roads due to rapid rises on creeks and streams or even water flowing from farm fields,” the NWS in Des Moines, Iowa, said in an advisory.

Authorities closed roadways early Wednesday in several communities along the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers in the Midwest where intense rains have already fallen over the last few days, according to the NWS.

Showers and thunderstorms were also expected for Rockford, Illinois, where five inches of rain fell in less than four hours on Monday night. Emergency crews rescued people from numerous submerged vehicles.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, where more than 2 inches of rain was forecast after more than a foot of rain has fallen, crews conducted several high-water rescues on Tuesday while police closed roadways, local media reported.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. Chemical Safety Board urges chemical plants to weigh disaster risks

FILE PHOTO: The flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA, which produces organic peroxides, is seen after fires were reported at the facilty after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Chemical Safety Board on Thursday urged chemical plants to weigh the risks of natural disasters just as they would the integrity of pipes and production equipment.

“Such facilities should perform an analysis to determine their susceptibility to extreme weather events,” the board said in its final report on a chemical fire at the Arkema SA plant in Crosby, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey in August and September 2017.

“In addition, companies should assess seismic hazard maps to determine the risk of earthquakes and consider the risk of other extreme weather such as high-wind events,” the board said in the report.

Harvey dropped five feet of water on the Crosby plant, cutting off power to low-temperature warehouses meant to keep cool organic peroxides used in plastics production.

The peroxides were placed in refrigerated trailers as a last resort to keep them from decomposing and catching fire at the plant located 27 miles east of Houston.

FILE PHOTO: A fire burns at the flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

But when flood waters cut power to the trailers, the peroxides decomposed, heated up and caught fire, forcing the evacuation of 200 people living within a 1.5 mile radius of the plant. Twenty-one people sought treatment for exposure to fumes from the blaze.

The evacuation ended after officials set fire to the storage trailers to burn up all of the peroxides.

The board, which has no enforcement or regulatory authority, recommended Arkema develop plans for flood risks at its plants and put in place multiple, redundant systems for storing chemicals.

The CSB also recommended that the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Center for Process Safety develop guidelines so plants can evaluate risk from extreme weather.

The board said Harris County, Texas, should update training and protective equipment to emergency responders to prevent exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Many of those exposed to the fumes from the fire were emergency responders.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

California risks severe ‘whiplash’ from drought to flood: scientists

FILE PHOTO: Waves crash against a sea wall in San Francisco Bay beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, December 16, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith//File Photo

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) – California will suffer more volatile weather this century with a “whiplash” from drought to rain and mounting risks a repeat of the devastating “Great Flood” of 1862, scientists said on Monday.

Climate change, driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, would drive more extreme shifts between hot and dry summers and wet winters in the most populous U.S. state, they wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Global warming is making California and other regions with similar Mediterranean-style climates, from southern Europe to parts of Australia, drier and warmer in summer, said lead author Daniel Swain of the University of California, Los Angeles.

In California in winter “an opposing trend toward a strong Pacific jet stream is projected to locally enhance precipitation during the core months of the ‘rainy season’,” he told Reuters.

“Natural precipitation variability in this region is already large, and projected future whiplash increases would amplify existing swings between dry and wet years,” the authors wrote.

They projected “a 25 percent to 100 percent increase in extreme dry-to-wet precipitation events” this century.

California had its worst drought in recorded history from 2010–2016, followed by severe rains and flooding that culminated with evacuation orders for almost 200,000 residents as a precaution near the Oroville Dam last year.

The study said that major urban centers, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, were “more likely than not” to suffer a freak series of storms by 2060 similar to ones in 1861-62 that led to the “Great Flood”.

The storms swamped the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, flooding an area 300 miles (500 km) long and 20 miles wide. Storms washed away bridges, inundated mines and wrecked farms.

FILE PHOTO: 65,000 cfs of water flow through a damaged spillway on the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Max Whittaker/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: 65,000 cfs of water flow through a damaged spillway on the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Max Whittaker/File Photo

A repeat “would probably lead to considerable loss of life and economic damages approaching a trillion dollars”, the study said.

As part of planning, Swain said the state should expand use of floodplains that can be deliberately flooded to soak up rains, such as the Yolo Bypass which protects the city of Sacramento.

The study assumes, however, that global greenhouse gas emissions will keep rising, at odds with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement under which almost 200 nations agreed to cut emissions to net zero between 2050 and 2100.

“Such a future can be partially, but not completely, avoided” if the world takes tougher action, Swain said. He noted that existing government pledges to limit warming fall well short of the Paris goals.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who doubts mainstream findings that greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of warming, plans to quit the deal, saying he wants to promote the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Alison Williams)

Uncovered losses hurt U.S. small business in wake of 2017 storms: Fed

FILE PHOTO: The corner stone of the New York Federal Reserve Bank is seen surrounded by financial institutions in New York City, New York, U.S., March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Reade Levinson

(Reuters) – Small businesses in the United States struggled with uninsured damages and lost revenue following a record-breaking year of hurricanes and wildfires, according to a Federal Reserve survey published on Tuesday.

The report by the Dallas, New York, Richmond, and San Francisco Fed banks examined 1,800 businesses with fewer than 500 employees in zip codes with disasters designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It found, 40 percent of small firms in these areas had natural-disaster related losses, and 35 percent lost more than $25,000 in revenues.

The report paints a worrisome picture for local economies after a record-breaking year of weather and climate-related disasters that cost the United States an estimated $306 billion in 2017, the third-warmest year on record, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

To see the report,  click here  .

“Small businesses are primary drivers of job growth and their ability to rebound from disasters is critical to regional economic recovery,” said Claire Kramer Mills, assistant vice president at the New York Fed.

Small businesses employ half of private-sector workers and are the primary creators of new jobs in the United States, according to a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau study.

The survey found last year’s storms hit minority communities particularly hard. Some 54 percent of Hispanic-owned firms in affected areas reported natural disaster-related losses, compared to 40 percent of White-owned firms and 35 percent of Black or African American-owned firms.

The storms hit lodging and retail businesses hardest. Some 52 percent of leisure and hospitality firms and 47 percent of retail firms in affected areas reported natural disaster-related losses, the highest shares of all industries.

Small and young businesses are especially vulnerable to extreme weather and other natural disasters compared to their larger counterparts. Financing options are limited: federal relief funds can take months to reach communities and few small business are insured against such storms.

The report found firms’ insurance holdings did not match the sources of their losses, which stemmed more from disrupted business than from damaged assets. Sixty-five percent of disaster-affected firms cited loss of power or utilities as the source of their losses. However, only 17 percent of affected firms had business disruption insurance at the time of the disaster.

Federal Reserve Bank officials who worked on the report said local governments can help bridge this insurance gap by helping business understand their vulnerabilities and purchase the relevant coverage beforehand.

(Reporting by Reade Levinson in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Nick Zieminski)

Storms unleash tornadoes in U.S. east, record snow in Midwest

Dark clouds hover above buildings amidst tornadoes in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the U.S., April 10, 2018 in this still image obtained from a social media video. Emmet Finneran/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Deadly slow-moving storms generated record or near-record snowfall and low temperatures in the U.S. Midwest and tornadoes further east on Sunday, leaving airline travelers stranded and thousands without power.

In Michigan, where snowfall was expected to reach 18 inches in some areas, about 310,000 homes and businesses were without power because of an ice storm, most of them in the southeast of the state.

Large areas of Detroit were without power and customers were not expected to have it back on Sunday night, utility DTE Energy said. It was working to have 90 percent of outages restored by Tuesday, DTE spokeswoman Carly Getz said in a statement.

Cars are seen on a road during a tornado in Mountainburg, Arkansas, U.S., April 13, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. JOSHUA COLEMAN/via REUTERS

Cars are seen on a road during a tornado in Mountainburg, Arkansas, U.S., April 13, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. JOSHUA COLEMAN/via REUTERS

The weight of ice on power lines, coupled with high winds, caused more than 1,000 power lines to fall in Detroit and Wayne County, DTE said.

The worst of the snow was focused on the upper Great Lakes, with Green Bay, Wisconsin, seeing its second largest snowstorm ever after 23.2 inches fell as of Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

For the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, the April monthly record for snowfall of 21.8 inches (55 cm) was surpassed on Saturday, the National Weather Service said.

Two tornadoes tore up trees and ripped apart homes in Greensboro and Reidsville, North Carolina, killing a motorist who was hit by a tree, according to Greensboro’s city manager, local media reported.

The storms stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest and were moving into the Northeast and New England.

Record low temperatures for the date were expected in Oklahoma City on Monday at 30 degrees F (-1 C), and in Kansas City, Missouri, at 25 F (-4 C), Hurley said.

On Friday, the weather system produced 17 reports of tornadoes in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas, with four people injured and 160 buildings damaged in a possible tornado in northwest Arkansas, local media reported.

The weather was blamed for two traffic deaths in western Nebraska and Wisconsin, according to National Public Radio.

The storms also killed a one-year-old girl when a tree fell on a recreational vehicle where she was sleeping, the sheriff’s office in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, said.

By Sunday night, 1,804 flights had been canceled into or out of U.S. airports, the website flightaware.com reported, including 148 flights in or out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Andrew Hay in Taos, N.M.; Editing by Adrian Croft and Peter Cooney)